The Orchid (Robert Grant) - with the original illustrations - (Literary Thoughts Edition) - Robert Grant - ebook

The Orchid (Robert Grant) - with the original illustrations - (Literary Thoughts Edition) ebook

Robert Grant

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Literary Thoughts edition presents The Orchid by Robert Grant ------ The Orchid is a 1905 novel by American writer Robert Grant (1852–1940), telling the story of a young woman who marries for money and divorces for love, and afterwards sells her infant daughter back to her former husband to secure a two million dollar fortune. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage to see our other publications.

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The Orchidby Robert Grant

Literary Thoughts Editionpresents

The Orchid, by Robert Grant

Transscribed and Published by Jacson Keating (editor)

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Chapter I

It was generally recognized that Lydia Arnold's perceptions were quicker than those of most other people. She was alert in grasping the significance of what was said to her; her face clearly revealed this. She had the habit of deliberating just an instant before responding, which marked her thought; and when she spoke, her words had a succinct definiteness of their own. The quality of her voice arrested attention. The intonation was finished yet dry: finished in that it was well modulated; dry in that it was void of enthusiasm.

Yet Lydia was far from a grave person. She laughed readily and freely, but in a minor key, which was only in keeping with her other attributes of fastidiousness. Her mental acuteness and conversational poise were accounted for at Westfield—the town within the limits of which dwelt the colony of which she was a member—by the tradition that she had read everything, or, more accurately, that she had been permitted to read everything while still a school-girl.

Her mother, a beautiful, nervous invalid—one of those mysterious persons whose peculiarities are pigeon-holed in the memories of their immediate families—had died in Lydia's infancy. Her amiable but self-indulgent father had been too easy-going or too obtuse to follow the details of her home-training. He had taken refuge from qualms or perplexities by providing a governess, a well-equipped, matronly foreigner, from whom she acquired a correct French accent and composed deportment, both of which were now marks of distinction. Mlle. Demorest would have been the last woman to permit a jeune fille to browse unreservedly in a collection of miscellaneous French novels. But Lydia saw no reason why she should inform her preceptress that, having entered her father's library in search of "Ivanhoe" and the "Dutch Republic," she had gone there later to peruse the works of Flaubert, Octave Feuillet, and Guy de Maupassant. Why, indeed? For, to begin with, was she not an American girl, and free to do as she chose? And then again the evolution was gradual; she had reached this stage of culture by degrees. She read everything which the library contained—poetry, history, philosophy, fiction—and having exhausted these resources, she turned her attention outside, and became an omnivorous devourer of current literature.

Before her "coming-out" party she was familiar with all the "up-to-date" books, and had opinions on many problems, sexual and otherwise, though be it said she was an eminently proper young person in her language and behavior, and her knowingness, so far as appeared, was merely intellectual. Early in the day her father's scrutiny was forever dazzled by the assuring discovery that she was immersed in Scott. Mr. Arnold had been told by some of his contemporaries that the rising generation did not read Sir Walter, a heresy so damnable that when he found his daughter pale with interest over the sorrows of the "Bride of Lammermoor," he jumped to the conclusion that her literary taste was conservative, and gave no more thought to this feature of her education. Presently he did what he considered the essentially paternal thing—introduced her to the social world through the medium of a magnificent ball, which taxed his income though he had been preparing for it for a year or two. As one of a bevy of pretty, innocent-looking maidens in white tulle, Lydia attracted favorable comment from the outset by her piquant expression and stylish figure. But shortly after the close of her first season she was driven into retirement by her father's death, and when next she appeared on the horizon, sixteen months later, it was as a spirited follower of the hounds belonging to the Westfield Hunt Club.

On the crisp autumn day when this story opens, the members of that energetic body were eagerly discussing the interesting proposition whether or not Miss Lydia Arnold was going to accept Herbert Maxwell as a husband. This was the universal query, and the point had been agitated for the past six weeks with increasing curiosity. The hunting season was now nearing its close, and the lover was still setting a tremendous pace, but none of the closest feminine friends of the young woman in question appeared to have inside information. Even her bosom friend, Mrs. Walter Cole, as she joined the meet that morning, could only say in answer to inquiries that Lydia was mum as an oyster.

"I suppose the reflection that the offspring might resemble Grandma Maxwell tends to counteract the glamour of the four millions," remarked one of the group, Gerald Marcy, a middle-aged bachelor with a partiality for cynical sallies—also an ex-master of the hounds and one of the veterans of the colony. He was mounted on a solid roan hunter slightly but becomingly grizzled like himself. Thereupon he gave a twist to his mustache, as he was apt to do after uttering what he thought was a good thing. Most of the Westfield Hunt Club were clean-shaven young men who regarded a mustache as a hirsute superfluity. The nucleus of the club had been formed twenty years previous—in the late seventies—at which time it was the fashion to wear hair on the face, but of the small band of original members some had grown too stout or too shaky to hunt, most had families which forbade them to run the risk of breaking their necks, and others were dead.

Mrs. Cole's reply was uttered so that only Marcy heard it. Perhaps she feared to shock the smooth-shaven younger men, for, though she prided herself on her complete sophistication in regard to the world and its ways, one evidence of it was that she suited her conversation to the person with whom she was talking. There are points of view which a young matron can discuss with a middle-aged bachelor which might embarrass or be misinterpreted by less experienced males. So she caused her pony to bound a little apart before she said to Marcy, who followed her:

"I doubt very much if children of her own are included in Lydia's scheme of life."

Mrs. Cole was a bright-eyed, vivacious woman, who talked fast and cleverly. She was fond of making paradoxical remarks, and of defending her theses stoutly. She glanced sideways at her companion to observe the effect of this animadversion, then, bending, patted the neck of her palfrey caressingly. She was herself the mother of two chubby infants, and, out of deference to domestic claims, she no longer followed the hounds, but simply took a morning spin to the meets on a safe hack.

Marcy smiled appreciatively. As a man of the world he felt bound to do this, yet as a man of the world he felt shocked at the hypothesis. Race suicide was in his eyes a cardinal sin compared with which youthful indiscretions resulting from hot blood appeared trifling and normal. Besides, it was deliberate rebellion against the vested rights of man. This latter consideration gave the cue to his slightly dogged answer.

"I rather think that Herbert Maxwell would have something to say about that."

Mrs. Cole surveyed him archly, meditating a convincing retort, when suddenly a new group of riders appeared over the crest of an intervening hill. "Here they are!" she cried with a gusto which proclaimed that the opportunity for subtle confabulation on the point at issue was at an end.

The newcomers, all ardent hunting spirits—Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Cunningham, Miss Peggy Blake, Miss Lydia Arnold, Guy Perry and Herbert Maxwell—came speeding forward at a brisk gallop. Mrs. Cunningham—May Cunningham—was a short, dumpy woman, amiable and popular, but hard featured, as though she had burned the candle in social comings and goings in her youth, which indeed was the case. But since her marriage she had by way of settling down fixed her energies on cross-country riding, and was familiarly known as the mother of the hunt. She had an excellent seat. She and her husband, a burly sportsman whose ruling passion was to reduce his weight below two hundred pounds, and whose predilection for gaudy effects in waistcoats and stocks always pushed the prevailing fashion hard, were prime movers in the Westfield set. They had no children, and, as Mrs. Cole once said, it sometimes seemed as though the hounds took the place of them.

Miss Peggy Blake was a breezy Amazon, comely, long-limbed and enthusiastic, of many adjectives but simple soul, whose hair was apt to tumble down at inopportune moments, but who stuck at nothing which promised fresh physical exhilaration. Guy Perry, a young broker who had made a fortune in copper stocks, was one of her devoted swains. But dashingly as she rode, her carriage lacked Lydia Arnold's distinction and witchery. Indeed, that slight, dainty young person seemed a part of the animal, so gracefully and jauntily did she follow the movements of her rangy, spirited thoroughbred. When Gerald Marcy exclaimed fervently, "By Jove, but she rides well!" no one of the awaiting group was doubtful as to whom he meant.

Keeping as close to his Dulcinea as he could, but not quite abreast, came Herbert Maxwell, a rather lumbering equestrian. Fashion had led him, the previous season, as a young man with great possessions, to follow the hounds, but sedately, as became a somewhat sober novice. Love now spurred him to take the highest stone walls, and for the purpose he had bought a couple of famous hunters. He had long ago dismissed both fear and caution, and had eyes only for the nape of Miss Arnold's neck as they sped over hill and dale. Twice in the last six weeks he had come a cropper, as the phrase is, and been cut up a bit, but he still rode valiantly, bent on running the risk of a final tumble which would break not his ribs but his heart. In every-day life he appeared large and above the average height, with reddish-brown hair and eyebrows and a somewhat grave countenance—rather a nondescript young man, but entirely unobjectionable; the sort of personality which, as Lydia's friends were saying, a clever woman could mould into a solid if not ornamental social pillar.

For Herbert Maxwell was a new man. That is, the parents of the members of the Westfield Hunt Club remembered his father as a dealer in furniture, selling goods in his own store, a red-visaged round-faced, stubby looking citizen with a huge standing collar gaping at the front. Though he had grown rich in the process, settled in the fashionable quarter of the city and sent his boy to college in order to make desirable friends and get a good education, it could not be denied that he smelt of varnish metaphorically if not actually, and that Herbert was, so to speak, on the defensive from a social point of view. Everybody's eye was on him to see that he did not make some "break," and inasmuch as he was commonly, if patronizingly, spoken of as "a very decent sort of chap," it may be taken for granted that he had managed to escape serious criticism. His sober manner was partly to be accounted for by his determination to keep himself well in hand, which had been formed ten years previous, during his Freshman year, when one of his classmates, to the manner born, informed him in a moment of frankness that he was too loud-mouthed for success.

This had been the turning-point in his career; he had been toning down ever since; he had been cultivating reserve, checking all temptations toward extravagance of speech, deportment or dress, and, in short, had become convincingly repressed—that is, up to the hour of his infatuation for Lydia Arnold. Since then he had let himself go, yet not indecorously, and with due regard to the proprieties. All the world loves a lover, and to the Westfield Hunt Club Herbert Maxwell's kicking over the bars of colorless conventionality appeared both pardonable and refreshing, especially as it was recognized that the manifestations of his ardor, though unmistakable, had not been lacking in taste. The sternest censors of society had not the heart to sneer at the possessor of four millions because the entertainments which he gave in his lady love's honor were more sumptuous than the occasion demanded, and that in his solicitude to keep up with her on the hunting field he was an easy victim to the horse-dealers. Before the bar of nice judgment it was tacitly admitted that he appeared to better advantage than if he had ambled after his goddess with the lacklustre indifference which some of his betters were apt to affect. It takes one to the manner born to be listless in love and yet prevail; and so it was that Maxwell's reversion to breakneck manners had given a pleasant thrill to this fastidious colony.

Gay greetings and felicitations on the beauty of the day for hunting purposes were exchanged between the new-comers and their friends. The men in their red coats had a word of gallantry or chaff for every woman. New equestrians appeared approaching from diverse directions, while suddenly from the kennels a few rods distant issued a barking, snuffing pack of eager hounds, conducted by Kenneth Post, the master, whose expansive high white stock and shining black leather boots proclaimed that he took his functions seriously. This was a red-letter day for him, as he had invited the hunt to breakfast with him at the club-house after the run.

Lydia, on her arrival, had guided her thoroughbred to the other side of Mrs. Cole so deftly that her admirer was shut out from immediate pursuit. At a glance from her the two women's heads bent close together in scrutiny of some disarrangement in her riding-habit.

"Fanny," she whispered, "I've done it."

"Lydia! When did it happen?"

"Last evening. I've given him permission to announce it at the breakfast."

"My dear, I'm just thrilled. You've kept us all guessing."

"I've heard that the betting was even," answered Lydia with dry complacency. The intimation that she had kept the world in the dark was evidently agreeable. "I wished you to know first of all."

"That was lovely of you. And how clever to escape the bore of writing all those hateful notes! That was just like you, Lydia."

"I know a girl who wrote two hundred, and the day they were ready to be sent out changed her mind. I don't wish to run the risk. Here comes Mr. Marcy."

Fannie Cole gave her hand an ecstatic squeeze and they lifted their heads to meet the common enemy, man. It was time to start, and he was solicitous lest something were wrong with Miss Arnold's saddle girths.

"Beauty in distress?" he murmured with a tug at his mustache. Marcy had his commonplace saws, like most of us.

Mrs. Cole was opening her mouth to reassure him on that score when she was forestalled by Lydia.

"That's a question, Mr. Marcy, which can be more easily answered a year or two hence."

Marcy bowed low in his saddle. "At your pleasure, of course. I did not come to pry." At his best Marcy had quick perceptions and could put two and two together. He was assisted to the divination that something was in the wind by catching sight at the moment of Herbert Maxwell's countenance. That worthy had been blocked in his progress by pretty Mrs. Baxter, who, having resented his attempt to squeeze past her by the following remark, had barred his way with her horse's flank.

"We all know where you are heading, Mr. Maxwell, but as a punishment for endeavoring to shove me aside you must pay toll by talking to me for a little."

The culprit had started and stared like one awakened in his sleep, and stammered his apologies to his laughing tormentor. But while she kept him at bay, his eyes could not help straying beyond her toward the woman of his heart, and it was their peculiar expression which drew from Marcy the remark which he referred to later as an inspiration.

"It's not exactly pertinent to the subject, Miss Arnold, but Herbert Maxwell has the look this morning of having seen the Holy Grail."

Lydia calmly turned her graceful head in the direction indicated, then facing her interrogator, said oracularly after a pause: "The wisest men are liable to see false visions. But provided they are happy, does it really matter, Mr. Marcy?"

Whereupon, without waiting for a response to this Delphic utterance, she tapped her thoroughbred with her hunting crop and cantered forward to take her place in the van of those about to follow the hounds.

Chapter II